Though I live only about six minutes from the historic center of Assisi, I find that I don’t write about my hometown very much. I tend to explore (and share) Umbria’s less famous villages and countryside, but there is no doubt that Saint Francis’ birthplace is one of the most beautiful spots in Umbria, if not all of Italy.
So I finally sat down and put together three itineraries: one, two, and three days of discovery of the picturesque, the poignant, and the–uh, another p word isn’t coming to me–town and environs. Take a look and plan your visit:
This itinerary is a greatest hits compilation to help you discover Assisi’s most beautiful and iconic historical monuments and spiritual sites. Follow the directions to get a taste of the best of this unique town, and leave wanting to come back for more!
This itinerary will help you discover Assisi beyond the Basilica and historic center, including some of the more evocative Franciscan sites in the quiet countryside outside of town. Follow the directions to see and experience some of Assisi’s most famous monuments and most spiritual corners.
This itinerary will help you discover Assisi beyond the Basilica; use it to dodge the crowds of pilgrims which can flood the town in high season and find the quiet, picturesque backstreets, small trattorias where the locals eat, and off the beaten track gems (many of which you will have virtually to yourself). Follow the directions and know that you will leave after three days having seen and experienced the very best of this special place.
Need help planning your entire stay in Umbria? Here are two region-wide itineraries to help you out:
A week long suggested itinerary for visiting Umbria which throws in the crème della crème of the region: art and history, towns and parks, food and drink, people and shopping.
A two week long suggested itinerary for visiting Umbria which throws in the crème della crème of the region: art and history, towns and parks, food and drink, people and shopping.
The 1-Day Itinerary – Overview
Assisi is divided into two parts—the Lower (Parte de Sotto) and the Upper (Parte de Sopra). Though the distinction is purely semantic for most of the year, each May the town—home of peaceloving Saint Francis—sheds its normal spirit of brotherly love to spend three days (and nights) locked in intense competition as the two parts stage processions, scenes of medieval life, and concerts with period music as they vie for the honor of the Palio during the annual Calendimaggio festival.
This itinerary will explore highlights from the Parte de Sotto (everything that lies between the Basilica of Saint Francis and the main—and officially “neutral”–Piazza del Comune) and the Parte de Sopra, which covers the area from the central Piazza del Comune and extends east. Make sure you have comfortable shoes, as there will be some steep climbs through the narrow streets marking the upper part of this famed hilltown, but the views will be worth a bit of huffing and puffing!
We will also touch on a few spiritual sites outside the historic center of Assisi, either on the slopes of Mount Subasio above the town or in the Valley below. The timing of this itinerary is only a recommendation, as much depends upon your method of transportation (public transportation and walking will take more time than driving or hiring a taxi) and how long you choose to linger at each site.
La Basilica di San Francesco (The Basilica of Saint Francis)
Hours: Lower Basilica 6:45am-6:00pm/Upper Basilica 8:30am – 7:45pm
To begin your first day, start at the Piazza Giovanni Paolo II public parking lot (some locals still call it Piazza San Pietro). Here there is ample paid parking, one of the main bus stops for those taking the local bus from the Assisi train station (located in Santa Maria degli Angeli in the valley below; check schedule at the bus stop for times and purchase tickets at the bar in the train station for €1), and a taxi stand (€10 from the train station). From here, it’s a short uphill walk to the Basilica above.
The ties between Assisi and her most famous monument are so symbiotic that it’s difficult to discern where one begins and the other ends; to know one, you have to know the other. Despite its sprawling size, the Upper and Lower Churches can get crowded during peak hours, so to enjoy the fabulous Giotto school fresco cycle documenting the life of Saint Francis in relative peace, it pays to time your visit for early morning—in fact, if you’re an early riser I suggest you try to get there before the time listed here to beat the tour bus crowds.
Local’s Tip: To fully enjoy the Basilica’s rich art and history—and its two churches, crypt, and museum– you should visit armed with a good guidebook or rent an audioguide from the stand to the left of the entrance to the Upper Church (€6/one hour tour; open 9:30am-5:30pm).
From The Upper Church in the Basilica, simply cross the street to the first building; your next stop is right on the corner.
Caffè San Francesco
Address: Via San Francesco, 52
After your visit to the Basilica, it’s time to give your brain and feet a rest at this landmark local cafè. Try to grab the secret hidden table behind all the flowerpots on the corner for the best view in town, or enjoy the old-world style marble and scarlet decor inside while you sip your cappuccino.
From here continue down the main Via di San Francesco.
Via San Francesco
One of Assisi’s main thouroughfares, this long road is lined with everything from the kitschiest of souvenir shops to Assisi’s civic museum.
Local’s Tip: Stop to get a drink and fill your water bottles at the small fountain at the bottom of the stairs on the left which lead up Vicolo S. Andrea from Via San Francesco. The water is potable and the lionhead fountain charming.
Casa dei Maestri Comacini
Where the stairs of Vicolo S. Andrea meet Via San Francesco, take a good gander at this 13th century loggia and two-story extension to the right (dated 1477 on the coat of arms on the lower story). The building was named for the compass and rose reliefs above the door and the window to its right, suggesting that it might have belonged to the master masons who traditionally came from Lake Como. One of the best preserved medieval facades in Assisi.
From here, continue up Via San Francesco (away from the Basilica).
Oratorio dei Pellegini and Monte Frumentario
Hours: 10am–12pm/4pm-6pm ; closed Sun
You will come first to the unassuming Oratorio dei Pellegrini, built by a group of pilgrims returning from Santiago di Compostella in the 1400s. Though the drab exterior is easily overlooked, it belies the rich frescoes of the Perugino school completely covering the interior.
On the next block, the uniform series of facades lining Via San Francesco is broken up by the delicate columns of Monte Frumentario’s portico. This 14th century building—originally a hospital—later housed a guild which lent wheat and other farm products to peasants in exchange for pawned goods.
Next door, the Oliviera Fountain, built in 1570, features a plaque fixing the fine for doing wash in the fountain at one “scudo”. Don’t drink the water here, but feel free to take some great pictures of this lovely public fountain.
After admiring the fountain, continue along Via San Francesco passing under the arch and continuing uphill along Via Portica to Piazza del Comune.
Piazza del Comune
It’s time to take a break and admire the pretty Piazza del Comune. Grab a table at one of the outdoor caffes (try Bar Trovellesi under the portico near the fountain) and admire the 13th century municipal building lining one side of the piazza, the pretty fountain with its jetted lions, the soaring belltower, and—most importantly—the Temple of Minerva. From the 1st century BC, this is the most intact Roman temple facade in Italy.
From here, take Corso Mazzini on the left.
La Piazza and Il Corso is where all Assisi go to see and be seen. Unfortunately, Assisi’s main street has been taken over by shops and caffes catering primarily to the tourist trade, but if you’re looking for some traditional souvenirs to take home, you may want to stop in the stores here.
Local’s Tip: Assisi’s best bakery is “Bar Pasticcieria Sensi” about halfway down the corso on your right. Though not as showy as many other pastry shops around town, this is where the locals all flock to satisfy their sweet-tooth. If you have a taste for something savory, try the pan caciato (cheese bread with walnuts).
Local’s Tip: As you pass under the archway at the end of the Corso (where Piazza Santa Chiara begins) there is a water fountain in a niche in the wall to your left (at the base of the staircase). Stop for a quick drink here.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara (Church of Saint Claire)
The pink and white striped facade of the church dedicated to Saint Claire shortly after her death in 1253 dominates this piazza, and the immense flying buttresses and intricate rose window only render it more dramatic. Don’t miss the San Damiano Crucifix inside (in the Oratorio del Crocifisso)…this is the one which spoke to Francis, commanding him to “go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin,” thus changing the course of history.
Local’s Tip: The stone benches along the overlook at the far side of Piazza Santa Chiara are a wonderful, shady place to rest for a minute and snap some fabulous photos of the Umbria Valley below.
From Piazza Santa Chiara, walk the length of the Corso back to Piazza del Comune.
Unfortunately, there are no restaurants worth their salt along the Corso, so for lunch double back to the main Piazza. From here you have three great options, all within a few meters.
Trattoria degli Umbri
No frills traditional family-style trattoria with traditional Umbrian fare. It can get crowded in peak season and you may need a little patience with the slow service.
Address: Piazza del Comune, 2
Osteria Piazzetta delle Erbe
Modern twist on traditional cuisine and one of the few spots in Assisi with outdoor seating.
Address: Via San Gabriele dell’Addolorata, 15/A
Trattoria La Pallotta
A Slow Food restaurant, this historic family-owned spot is heavy on local dishes and ingredients.
Address: Via della Volta Pinta, 3
From any of these three restaurants, make your way back into the Piazza del Comune and take the steep pedestrian Via San Rufino to Piazza San Rufino
Chiesa di San Rufino (Church of Saint Rufino)
Hours: 10:00am – 1:00pm/3:00pm-6:00pm
Price: €3 (for the Museum and Cript)
Assisi’s cathedral has been recently restored, so its twelfth century Romanesque facade and massive belltower are even more breathtaking. Don’t miss the small but excellent museum and crypt (in the piazza to the right of the facade), with its vaulted rooms and gracefully restored columns, it is perhaps the best collection of art and architecture in Assisi.
At Piazza San Rufino turn left into Via Porta Perlici and climb for about a block. On the left, take the stairs (there is an arrow indicating La Rocca Maggiore) as they climb, ending at the service road which leads to the entrance to the fortress.
Local’s Tip: If the climb uphill to the fortress is too rigorous, you can also get a taxi at the stand right in Piazza Santa Chiara. Taxis have access to the service road leading to the Rocca, but not normal traffic.
La Rocca Maggiore
Price: €5 (or included in the €8 ticket purchased on Day 1 at Palazzo Vallemani)
The medieval fortress which sits above Assisi is one of its most fascinating, yet least visited, sites. This captivating warren of semi-restored tunnels, turrets, and courtyards is a thrill to explore for kids and grown-ups alike, and the heart-stopping climb up the far tower rewards you with one of the most amazing views over Assisi and the whole of the Umbrian valley below.
Descend the access road back to the staircase you took coming uphill. At the bottom of the stairs, turn right down Via Porta Perlici until you arrive in Piazza San Rufino.
Local’s Tip: Ready for a snack? The tiny pizza shop “Da Andrea” on the corner right across the street from the Church of San Rufino (there is a small wooden bench next to the door) has the best slices in Assisi.
Follow Via del Turrione uphill to the left of the facade of the church until it comes out at Piazza Matteotti. From here, you can either get a taxi to the Hermitage (€10) or—if you’re feeling athletic—walk the road up the mountain (you’ll be in good company; most pilgrims walk to the Hermitage). It’s about an hour uphill.
The Hermitage (L’Eremo delle Carceri)
Hours: 6:30am – 7:00pm
One of the most peaceful and evocative spiritual sites in Assisi, the Hermitage where Francis would often seclude himself in prayer and meditation is just off the beaten track enough to avoid the crowds of the Basilicas in Assisi and Santa Maria degli Angeli. Take time to wander both the building and the surrounding walking paths.
From here, either take a taxi back to your car parked in Assisi or all the way to Santa Maria degli Angeli (€15-€20).
The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli
Hours: 6:15am – 12:50pm/2:30pm – 7:30 pm
To visit the Basilica, you can park in the free lot directly in front of the church. Otherwise, for those using public transportation, it’s a short (flat!) ten minute walk from the Assisi train station (located in Santa Maria degli Angeli) where all trains and buses arrive; just point yourself towards the soaring dome.
You can’t miss the imposing domed Basilica which dominates the valley below the historic center of Assisi in the neighboring town of Santa Maria degli Angeli; this church is probably the second busiest after the Basilica of Saint Francis. The church itself is remarkable perhaps only for its size (it’s the eighth largest church in the world), but inside it holds the tiny 11th century Porziuncola oratory, where Saint Francis and his followers worshipped. Saint Claire took her vows of poverty here, and Saint Francis asked to be brought here to die. Here you can also visit the Cappella del Transito, where Francis died, and the rose garden, where the miraculous roses which shed their thorns at the Saint’s touch still bloom.
Dinner at Da Elide
Address: Via Patrono d’Italia, 48 Santa Maria degli Angeli
If you think that a restaurant near the train station is bad news, Da Elide is pleasant surprise. Just steps away from the Basilica in the direction of the Assisi train station, this historic restaurant (and hotel) is a local favorite, known especially for their meat grilled over the wood coals and fresh egg pasta.
This itinerary is primarily on foot, though parts can also be done by a car or combination of public transportation (bus) and taxis.
Have some extra time? Here’s one thing to add to this itinerary:
The Sanctuary of San Damiano
Hours: 6:15am – 12:00am/2:00pm – 6:45pm
Your final stop today is actually where it all began. The sanctuary at San Damiano once held the famous crucifix (now in the Basilica of Saint Claire) which spoke to a praying Francis, commanding him to “go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin,” three times. Francis did just that…first interpreting the message as a call to restore the neglected San Damiano and Porziuncola chapels and later taking it to mean a tweaking of the Roman Catholic Church itself. In this vein, he founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of Saint Claire and—many hold—became one of the most influential figures in religious history, pioneering virtues of poverty, brotherhood, respect for animals and the environment.
Staying longer in Assisi?